6. TransformationBoy Next Door [ Hiatus ]
Double update!!!! make sure to read Ch. 5 first. Long Chapter ahead.
When I was five years old, Park Chanyeol built an elevator.
It was a marvelous invention made from white string and truck wheels and a child-size shoe box, and because of it, my Barbies traveled from the first floor of their dollhouse to the second without ever having to walk on their abnormally slanted feet. The house was built in my bookcase, and I’d desired an elevator for as long as I could remember.
The official Barbie Dream House had one made of plastic, but as often as I begged my parents, they wouldn’t budge. No Dream House. Too expensive. So Chanyeol took it upon himself to make one for me. And while Shin hye and I decorated my bookcase with lamp shades made from toothpaste caps and Persian rugs made from carpet samples, Chanyeol created a working elevator. Pulleys and levers and gears come to him as naturally as breathing.
The elevator had completed its first run. Pet Doctor Barbie was enjoying the second floor and Shin hye was pulling down the elevator to fetch Skipper, when I stood on my tiptoes, puckered my lips, and planted one on her very surprised brother. Park Chanyeol kissed me back. He tasted like the warm cookies that Suho had brought us. His lips were dusted with blue sugar crystals. And when we parted, he staggered.
But our romance was as quick as our kiss. Shin hye proclaimed us “grody” and flounced back to their house, dragging Chanyeol behind her. And I decided she was right. Because Shin hye was the kind of girl you wanted to impress, which meant that she was always right. So I decided that boys were gross, and I would never date one. Certainly not her brother.
Not long after the elevator incident, Shin hye decided that I was grody, too, and my friendship with the twins ended. I imagine Chanyeol complied with the arrangement in the easy way of anyone under the sway of someone with a stronger personality. For several years, we didn’t talk. Contact was limited to hearing their car doors slam and glimpsing them through windows.
Shin hye had always been a talented gymnast, but the day she switched to figure skating, she burst into a different league altogether. Her parents bragged to mine about potential, and her life turned into one long practice session. And Chanyeol, too young to stay at home without a parent, went with her. On the rare occasions that he was at home, he busied himself inside his bedroom, building peculiar contraptions that flew and chimed and buzzed. Sometimes he’d test one in the small space between our houses. I’d hear an explosion that would bring me racing to my window. And then, but only then, would we exchange friendly, secretive smiles.
When I was twelve, the Park family moved away for two years. Training for Shin hye. And when they came back, the twins were different. Older. Shin hye had blossomed into the beauty our neighborhood had expected. Confidence radiated from every pore, every squaring of her shoulders. I was awed. Too intimidated to talk to her, but I chatted occasionally with Chanyeol. He wasn’t beautiful like his sister. Where the twins’ matching slenderness made Shin hye look ballet-esque, Chanyeol looked gawky. And he had acne and the peculiar habits of someone unused to socializing. He talked too fast, too much. But I enjoyed his company, and he appeared to enjoy mine.
We were on the verge of actual friendship when the Parks moved again. They rely a few months later, on the first day of summer before my freshman year. I would be turning fifteen, and the twins sixteen that November. Shin hye looked exactly as she had before they left. But, once again, Chanyeol had changed.
Mirae and I were on my porch, when a car pulled up next door and out stepped Park Chanyeol as I’d never seen him before—one beautifully long pinstriped leg after another. Something deep inside of me lurched. The stirring was as startling and unpleasant as it was thrilling and revolutionary. I already knew that this image—his legs, those pants—would be imprinted in my mind for the rest of my life.
The moment was that profound. Mirae called out a sunny hello. Chanyeol looked up, disconcerted, and his eyes met mine. That was it. I was gone. We held our gaze longer than the acceptable, normal amount of time before he shifted to Mirae and raised one hand in a quiet wave. His family materialized from the car, everyone talking at once, and his attention jerked back to them. But not without another glance toward me. And then another, even quicker, before disappearing.
I took Mirae’s hand and gripped it tightly. Our fingers were sticky with ice cream. She knew. Everything that needed to be said was spoken in the way I held on to her.
"Uh-oh.” She smiled.
Verbal contact happened that same night. The odd thing is that I no longer remember what I wore, but I know I chose it carefully, anticipating a meeting. When I finally pulled aside my curtains, I wasn’t surprised to discover him standing before his window, staring into mine. Of course he was. But he was taken aback by my appearance. Even his hair seemed more startled than usual.
“I was . . . getting some fresh air,” I said.
“Me, too.” Chanyeol nodded and added a great, exaggerated inhalation.
I’m still not sure if it was a joke, but I laughed. He gave me a nervous smile in return, which quickly broke into his fullwattage grin. He’s never had any control over it. Up close, I saw that his face had grown older. We stood there, smiling like fools. What do you say to someone who is not the same and yet completely the same?
Had I changed, too, or had it just been him? Chanyeol ducked away first. Some excuse about helping his mom unpack dishes. I vowed to initiate a real conversation the next day, but . . . his close proximity fizzled my brain, tied my tongue. He didn’t fare any better. So we waved. We’d never waved through our windows before, but it was unavoidably clear that we were aware of each other’s presence. So we were forced to acknowledge each other all day and all night, still having nothing to say but wanting to say everything.
It took weeks before this torturous situation changed. Betsy and I were leaving the house as he was strolling home, those pinstriped pants. We stopped shyly.
“It’s nice to see you,” he said. “Outside. Instead of inside. You know.” I smiled so that he’d know I knew.
“I’m taking her for a walk. You wouldn’t want to join—”
“—us?” My heart thrummed. Chanyeol looked away.
“Yeah, we could catch up. Should catch up.” I looked away, too, trying to control my blush.
“Do you need to drop that off?” He was carrying a paper bag from the hardware store.
“OH. Yeah. Hold on.” Chanyeol shot up his stairs but then stopped halfway. “Wait right there,” he added. He bounded inside and came back only seconds later. He held out two Blow Pops
. “It’s so lame,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I love these!” And then I did blush, for using the word love.
Our tongues turned green-apple green, but we talked for so long that by the time we returned home, they were pink again. The feeling inside of me grew. We began bumping into each other at the same time every afternoon. He’d pretend to be running an errand, I’d pretend to be surprised, and then he’d join Betsy and me on our walk. One day, he didn’t appear. I paused before his house, disappointed, and looked up and down our street. Betsy strained forward on her leash. The Parks’ door burst open, and Chanyeol flew down so quickly that he almost toppled into me.
“You’re late.” I smiled.
“You waited.” He wrung his hands.
We stopped pretending. Chanyeol defined the hours of my day. The hour I opened my curtains—the same time he opened his —so that we could share a morning hello. The hour I ate my lunch so that I could watch him eat his. The hour I left my house for our walk. The hour I called Mirae to dissect our walk. And the hour after dinner when Chanyeol and I chatted before closing our curtains again.
At night, I lay in bed and pictured him lying in his. Was he thinking about me, too? Did he imagine sneaking into my bedroom like I imagined sneaking into his? If we were alone in the dark instead of daylight, would he find the coura